This paper centers on the preparation and characterization of both a clay support and a faujasite zeolite membrane. Additionally, the study explores the development of bacterial media to assess the performance of these prepared membranes. The faujasite zeolite membrane was created using the hydrothermal method, involving the deposition of a faujasite layer to fine-tune the pore sizes of the clay support. The clay supports were crafted from clay which was sieved to particle size Φ ≤ 63 μm, and compacted with 3.0 wt.% activated carbon, then sintered at 1,000 °C. Distilled water fluxes revealed a decrease from 1,500 L m−2 h−1 to a minimum of 412 L m−2 h−1 after 180 min of filtration. Both membranes were characterized by XRF, XRD, FTIR, adsorption–desorption of nitrogen (N2), and SEM-EDS. PCR technique was used for the identification of the isolated Arthrobacter sp., and the retention of the bacteria on the clay support and the faujasite zeolite membrane were found to be 96 and 99%, respectively. The results showed that the faujasite zeolite membrane passed the clay support due to a narrow pore size of the faujasite zeolite membrane of 2.28 nm compared to 3.55 nm for the clay supports.

  • Tuned pore sizes enhance filtration with precise hydrothermal integration.

  • Robust XRF, XRD, FTIR, and SEM-EDS analysis ensure membrane integrity.

  • PCR confirms high retention rates of 96% on clay and 99% on zeolite.

  • Nanostructured sieving through 2.28 nm zeolite pores improve separation.

  • Versatile membrane was efficient, selective, stable, and cost-effective.

The arid climate and expanding population are contributing to the increasing scarcity of water, while the discharge of untreated polluted water into the environment presents contamination challenges (He et al. 2021; Kali et al. 2022a). Invisible microorganisms can be found in the most unlikely places, such as door handles, mobile phones, and kitchen sponges (Kanzy et al. 2015; Javaid et al. 2022). Although some of them do not cause any serious damage or may even be beneficial (Wang et al. 2013; Jiang et al. 2023), others can be very harmful and can cause death (Mart & Gun 2018; Sila 2019; Aazza et al. 2022). The Arthrobacter genus includes obligate aerobes that require oxygen for their life, they are rods like during their exponential growth and cocci during their settlement. This bacterium is widely found in different environments such as soils, plants' leaves, and wastewater sediments (Gobbetti & Rizzello 2014). Particularly, Arthrobacter species have been identified in clinical locations, foods like ready-to-eat vegetables, eggs, and raw milk, and play a crucial role in the ripening of smear surface of semisoft and hard cheese (Gobbeti & Smacchi 1999). Their capacity to degrade diverse compounds, including unusual and polymeric substances, makes them significant contributors to biodegradation processes, particularly in breaking down agrochemicals and pollutants, such as nicotine, pyridine, and 2-methylpyridine (Časaite et al. 2020). Arthrobacter sp. has been widely used for the decontamination of soils from very harmful pesticides, in a study, Li et al. (2008), Arthrobacter sp., was isolated from industrial wastewater using an enrichment method, and was investigated for atrazine degrading. This bacterium not only prospers on atrazine as the exclusive source of nitrogen, carbon, and energy but also showed an extended metabolic versatility, efficiently metabolizing a broader spectrum of s-triazine compounds, including ametryn and prometryn.

Researchers are concerned with the elimination of pollutants using appropriate treatment methods to decrease their concentrations down to tolerated values (Adesakin et al. 2020). Conventional processes for treating polluted water face several obstacles, making it unsuitable for drinking water. Various treatment methods are currently available, including coagulation/flocculation, advanced oxidation processes, biological treatments (Zerhouni et al. 2019), catalytic reduction, adsorption (Kali et al. 2022b; Dehmani et al. 2023; El-kordy et al. 2023), and membrane filtration (Lahnafi et al. 2022). Membrane microfiltration and ultrafiltration remain the most promising treatment techniques for improving water quality (El-Kordy et al. 2022a). These techniques can retain suspended matter of the order of 0.02–10 μm and 1.0–20 nm for microfiltration and ultrafiltration; respectively, using a working pressure of 0.2–2.0 bar, which is also used to treat oil/water emulsions and purify process water (Mart & Gun 2018). In the past, membrane water treatment systems were used mainly in desalination projects (Lopez et al. 2023; Tahiri et al. 2023). However, improvements in membrane technology are making their use increasingly popular for the removal of microorganisms (Tusiime et al. 2022), particles, and natural organic matter that disrupt water and alter its taste over the last 20 years, major efforts have been made to develop processes using purifying membranes (Mart & Gun 2018). The utilization of ceramic membranes clay-based membranes emphasizing their advantageous performance parameters such as flow rate and efficiency (El-Kordy et al. 2024a). To enhance membrane properties, various layers, including oxides, zeolites, and graphite, have been deposited on membrane supports to create asymmetric membranes with desirable mechanical and thermal shock resistance. Key considerations for water filtration using membranes include porosity, pore size, pore distribution, surface charge, and hydrophobicity degree. Among the studied materials for environmental applications (Delgado-Friedrichs et al. 2020; Tahiri et al. 2023; El-Kordy et al. 2024b), zeolites stand out as suitable choices for new membrane technologies. Specifically, faujasite zeolite exhibits a larger specific surface area and higher porosity compared to other types (Daou et al. 2020; El-Kordy et al. 2022b). Faujasite is characterized by low cost, high stability, well-defined pores, and a typical microporous structure. Additionally, faujasite zeolite is highly hydrophilic, making it an ideal adsorbent support for bacteria removal in aqueous environments (Daou et al. 2020).

Several research studies have been devoted to the performance of ceramic membranes for filtration, Stevensite-rich clay-based ceramic membranes have been used to eliminate microorganisms in groundwater (Zerhouni et al. 2019). Goswami & Pugazhenthi (2020) provided a review highlighting research advancements in water purification. They explored the use of polymeric and ceramic membranes for removing bacteria and viruses from water. Subsequently, Baghdad & Hasnaoui (2020) conducted a study investigating the effectiveness of faujasite-cellulose composite membranes in water purification. Their research focused on the removal of various bacteria, such as total coliforms, Escherichia coli, enterococci, and Clostridium. A cellulose-faujasite composite membrane has demonstrated remarkable efficiency in the removal of total coliforms, E. coli, enterococci, and Clostridium bacteria, achieving exceptionally high yields. The membrane's capacity for colonies numbering less than 100 per 100 mL surpasses that for colonies exceeding 300 per 100 mL (Baghdad & Hasnaoui 2020). In a separate investigation conducted by Bertão et al. (2024), a zeolite-based delivery system (ZDS) with a faujasite structure, incorporating silver (Ag+) and 5-fluorouracil (5-FU) as antimicrobial and antineoplastic agents, exhibited notable retention capabilities against various bacterial strains, including Pr. acnes, MRSA, MSSA, E. coli, and P. aeruginosa. Results from antimicrobial assays suggest that the ZDS's antimicrobial efficacy stems from the synergistic action of both 5-FU and Ag+ within the dual system, facilitated by the effective loading of 5-FU and silver into the faujasite structure. In a study by Jędrzejczyk et al. (2017), an active silver compound immobilized within a solid faujasite matrix was dispersed onto paper and evaluated against various fungi and bacterial strains, including E. coli, Serratia marcescens, Bacillus subtilis, Bacillus megaterium, Trichoderma viride, Chaetomium globosum, Aspergillus niger, Cladosporium cladosporioides, and Mortierella alpina. The modified paper with faujasite additive exhibited either higher or comparable antibacterial and antifungal activities against most tested microbes compared to silver nanoparticle-filled paper. In another investigation by Ferreira et al. (2016), bimetallic doping of faujasite zeolite using silver and zinc was examined for antimicrobial properties against four microorganisms: E. coli, Bacillus subtilis, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, and Candida albicans. The bimetallic materials displayed robust efficacy against both bacteria and yeasts when compared to monometallic materials. The antimicrobial effectiveness of this material is attributed to a synergistic interplay between zinc and silver, particularly due to their respective valence states and positions within the zeolite framework. However, little attention has been paid to the enrichment and preconcentration of Arthrobacter species. This work is focused on assessing the effectiveness of zeolite composite membranes in retaining bacteria in aquatic environments. The primary objectives of this study revolve around the preparation and characterization of both a clay support and a faujasite zeolite membrane, along with the development of bacterial media for performance evaluation. The faujasite zeolite membrane was synthesized through the hydrothermal method, involving the deposition of a faujasite layer to adjust the pore sizes of the clay support. Derived from natural clay sourced from the region of Midelt in the High Atlas of Morocco, the clay supports underwent compaction with 3.0 wt.% activated carbon, followed by sintering at 1,000 °C. Subsequently, the hydrothermal method was utilized to seed faujasite inside the pores and on the surface of the clay supports using aluminate and silicate precursors, conducted at 80 °C for 24 h. The resulting composite clay/zeolite membrane was employed for the filtration of bacteria cultivated in culture media, marking a notable advancement with potential applications in diverse fields such as biotechnology, medicine, and water treatment.

Chemicals and reagents

Clay powder sampled from the High Atlas region, Morocco, was crushed in a mortar and sieved to grain size Φ ≤ 63 μm, sodium aluminate (NaAlO2), sodium silicate (Na2Si3O7), hydrochloric acid (HCl, 37%), sodium hydroxide (NaOH, 99%), nutrient agar medium, nutrient broth, saline, and polyethylene bottles were used as acquired from Sigma–Aldrich, chemicals were used without further purification. All solutions were prepared using distilled water. pH measurements were measured using the pH meter (OHAUS), the pH meter was freshly calibrated using three buffer solutions: pH = 4.0, pH = 7.0, and pH = 10.0.

Preparation of bacterial inoculum

Nutrient agar, a solid medium used for bacterial cultivation, is prepared as slants by pouring it into test tubes held at an angle until it solidifies. It contains beef extract, peptone, yeast extract, and sodium chloride dissolved in distilled water, providing essential nutrients for bacteria. Actively growing bacterial cells from the agar slants are transferred into 250 mL conical flasks containing 50 mL liquid nutrient broth, a similar nutrient-rich medium. This inoculation allows bacteria to multiply in the liquid medium. The flasks are then placed in an incubator set at 30 °C for 24 h, providing optimal conditions for bacterial growth. After incubation, 1% (108 CFU/mL) of the culture is transferred into 20 L sterilized saline solution to prevent contamination. The diluted culture is then incubated in a conical flask at 32 °C for another 24 h to allow adaptation and further growth (Amer et al. 2021). Finally, after incubation in the saline solution, the bacterial culture is observed for signs of growth, such as turbidity, or subjected to further tests to evaluate its characteristics. The quantities of each raw material used for the preparation of cultural media are as follows: nutrient agar medium was prepared by mixing 2.0 g of yeast extract, 5.0 g of peptone, 1.0 g Lab-Lemco powder, 5.0 g sodium chloride, and 15 g of agar, in 1.0 L of distilled water buffered to pH = 7. The nutrient broth was prepared by mixing 1.0 g of beef extract, 5.0 g of peptone, 2.0 g of yeast extract, and 5.0 g of sodium chloride, in 1.0 L of distilled water buffered to a final pH of 6.8 ± 0.2 at 25 °C. The saline was prepared by dissolving 8.0 g of NaCl in 1.0 L of distilled water.

Preparation of clay support and zeolite membrane

The raw clay used in this study was collected from the region of Midelt in the High Atlas of Morocco. The clay material was crushed and ground manually using a mortar, and then different sizes of granules were obtained using AFNOR standardized sieves. The particle sizes Φ ≤ 63 μm were used for the preparation of clay support. To fabricate the raw pellets, 4.0 g of clay powder containing organic additive (3.0 wt.% activated carbon, 97 wt.% raw clay) as a porosity agent was carefully mixed to ensure good homogeneity, this additive is easily degraded during the sintering process because the amorphous structure of activated carbon is mainly composed of carbon atoms, which favors a uniform distribution of pores in the final support. The study by Elgamouz & Tijani (2018a)) had an impact on the choice of 3 wt.% activated carbon, helping to improve the mechanical strength and porosity of the finished product. The mixture was then compacted in a stainless steel die set under a uniaxial pressure of 780.8 bar to produce flat disc-like pellets (40.0 mm in diameter, 2.0 mm thick). The raw pellets obtained were air-dried to remove surface water molecules, aiming to prevent membrane cracking during the sintering process. In general, the support consolidation is ensured by the adsorbed and constitutional surface water of the clay. However, in our synthesis, no water was added to the powders. The raw flat disc membranes were sintered to final temperatures of 1,000 °C at a rate of 2.0 °C/min, using an electric furnace (type NABER 2804), using the following heating program (T = 25 °C, 2°/min) → (T = 250 °C, for 2 h, 2°/min) → (T = 500 °C, for 1 h, 2°/min) → (T = 700 °C, for 1 h, 2°/min) → (T = 900 °C, for 1 h, 2°/min) → (Tf = 1,000 °C, for 2 h, 2°/min) → (T = 25 °C, free decrease, the oven switched off). This ramping temperature heating program (Supplementary Figure S1) was developed based on the physico-chemical phenomena occurring in the clay mineral according to the thermal analysis (Elgamouz & Tijani 2018b). The reference clay support was crushed and ground into fine powder for subsequent use in X-ray diffraction (XRD) analysis, Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR), scanning electron microscopy (SEM) equipped with energy-dispersive spectroscopy (SEM-EDS), and N2 adsorption–desorption analysis prior to the deposition of the faujasite zeolite layer on the clay support surface. First, one side of the substrate was polished with 600-grit sandpaper to a smooth surface. It was then washed with distilled water to remove the loose particles created during polishing and dried at 60 °C for 48 h. Finally, the polished side of the substrate was coated with a solution containing zeolite nucleation seeds.

The synthesis mixture was prepared by the hydrothermal method from two initial precursors of the following composition: the germination gel was prepared from 0.026 mol of NaOH and 5.328 × 10−3 mol of sodium aluminate which were dissolved in 0.277 mol of distilled water. After dissolution, 0.020 mol of sodium silicate was added to the mixture. The polyethylene bottle container was closed, and the gel was allowed to ripen for 24 h at room temperature. The second gel, the growth gel was prepared as follows: 8.75 × 10−4mol of NaOH and 0.033 mol of sodium aluminate were dissolved in 1.820 mol of distilled water. After dissolution, 0.125 mol of sodium silicate was added gradually under strong agitation. The gel was left to ripen for 2 h from the last addition, the synthesis was carried out according to the protocol previously described by our team (El-kordy et al. 2022b).

After mixing the two gels, the growth gel, and the germination gel under vigorous stirring. The resulting mixture was placed in polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) lined tubes housed in a stainless-steel autoclave, and shaken vigorously for 15 min. The clay support prepared previously was placed horizontally in the PTFE, and then the autoclave was kept in the oven at 80 °C for 24 h. The membrane was collected, and the powder zeolite was also recovered by filtration, washing several times with distilled water until a final pH of 10.0. Both the membrane and zeolite powder were dried in the oven at 60 °C overnight and kept for further use. The preparation process of the composite membrane is succinctly summarized in Supplementary Figure S2.

Characterization techniques

The materials used in this work were characterized using different techniques. X-ray fluorescence spectrometry was used to determine the chemical elements present in the raw clay and synthesized faujasite zeolite. The analysis was carried out with an AXION XRF spectrometer with a dispersion angle of 1 kW and at 60 kV. The machine is provided with a rhodium (Rh) X-ray tube and beryllium window apercu of 75 μm with eight crystal analyzers and three detectors (scintillation, gas flow, and xenon sealed). The analysis was carried out at the UATRS laboratory, CNRST in Rabat. The powder XRD analysis was performed using a diffracted beam monochromator and a Ni-filtered Cu Kα radiation source (λ = 1.5418 Å) on an X'PERT MPD-PRO XRD spectrometer. The diffractograms of the prepared materials were recorded in a range between 2θ = 5° and 60° at a step of 0.02° and a scan rate of 2 s/step. FTIR is based on the absorption of infrared radiation (400–4,000 cm−1) by the materials, allowing the detection of characteristic vibrations, it allows the identification of chemical functional groups. The spectra are recorded on a JASCO-4000 Fourier transform spectrometer. Samples were made into KBr pellets by thoroughly mixing with dried KBr in 4% (w/w). The surface morphology of the samples was studied by scanning electron microscopy (SEM; Topcon EM200B model), equipped with energy-dispersive spectroscopy (SEM-EDS), a low deposition rate carbon thin films were sputtered to make the non-conductive clay and zeolite samples electrically conductive under the electronic microscope. N2 adsorption–desorption measurements were obtained using a Micromeritics ASAP 2010 to find textural parameters such as the specific surface SBET (m2/g), the total volume of the pores V (cm3/g), and pores' diameter D (Å). These parameters are computed from the Brunauer–Emmet–Teller (BET) theory and the Barrett-Joyner-Halenda (BJH) algorithm for pores diameters between 10 and 2,000 Å in the desorption mode.

Filtration experiments

Experiments on the filtration of bacterial solutions through zeolite membranes with a filtration surface of 7.07 cm2, 0.2 cm thickness, median pore 1.35–3.5 μm, and ∼26% porosity were carried out, using a filtration flow loop that was built in our laboratory and used in a previous study (El-Kordy et al. 2022a; Supplementary Figure S3). The flow loop is made entirely from stainless steel to avoid corrosion problems, it is composed of a circulation pump, a 6.0 L feed tank circulated with a spiral tube used as a condenser to cool the tank and maintain the temperature of the tank constant, a stainless membrane housing sealed by an O-ring facing the feed stream, a porous stainless steel disc capping the membrane from the bottom to prevent cracking due to pressure applied up-down, and two pressure gauges: manometer 1, to measure the pressure at the inlet of the membrane housing, and manometer 2, to measure the pressure of the retentate at the outlet of the membrane housing. The filtration unit of the flat-disc zeolite membrane has three entrees a feed entry connected to the pump, a retentate entry of the membrane attached to the stock tank and the permeate entry is opened to the air and permeate is collected in a beaker over a balance. The flow loop is cleaned before and after each filtration operation, the cleaning consists of circulating ethyl alcohol solution (95%), soaking, rinsing, and evacuating the solution into the drain, this process is carried out to remove any impurities that may remain in the filtration system. A distilled water rinse was performed before the filtration of the bacterial solution. The filtration experiments were carried out at a controlled room temperature of 25 °C using a cooling circuit and the natural pH of the bacterial solution (pH = 6.5). The filtration pressure was set at 1.0 bar for all experiments. The resulting solutions were stored in the refrigerator at 4.0 °C for the bacterial numbers counting (CFU/mL). The filtrate flow rate (J) in L m−2 h−1 is measured using Equation (1), where V is the volume of the permeate, t is the filtration time, and Afilter is the filtration surface area of the membrane delimited by the internal O-ring's diameter, which was calculated by Equation (2) and was found to equal 7.07 × 10−4 m2, d is the diameter of the filtration area which is equal to 3.0 cm.
formula
(1)
formula
(2)

Evaluation of the membrane efficiency

The bacterial solution underwent filtration, with subsequent sampling intervals established at 15 min increments over 3 h. To quantify the microbial population, 1 mL of the solution was aseptically transferred to individual Petri dishes and incubated at 32 °C for periods ranging between 24 and 28 h. The resultant microbial counts for each Petri dish (CFU/mL) were subsequently recorded and examined, three readings were taken per sample, and results are presented as mean ± SD (Supplementary Figure S4).

Materials characterization

X-ray fluorescence

Table 1 displays the chemical composition of both the raw clay and the synthesized faujasite zeolite powder. Both materials, the raw clay mineral and the faujasite zeolite, are hydrated phyllosilicates. It can be noted that the raw clay used for the preparation of the clay supports is a heterogeneous mixture of oxides, essentially formed from a large amount of SiO2 (39.33 wt.%), CaO (18.79 wt.%), Al2O3 (10.44 wt.%), Fe2O3 (5.22 wt.%), and other oxides in smaller proportions. The SiO2/Al2O3 molar ratio of raw clay is in the order of 3.76, which shows that the clay used is an aluminosilicate with small amounts of sodium and magnesium oxides. While the faujasite zeolite consists mainly of SiO2, Al2O3, and Na2O, with percentages of 57.28, 25.34, and 16.71 wt.%, respectively. The other oxides are present in very small amounts like CaO, Fe2O3, MgO, K2O, and TiO2, these metal impurities could have originated from the starting materials.

Table 1

Chemical composition of the raw clay, and the synthesized faujasite zeolite

%OxideSiO2Al2O3CaOFe2O3MgOK2OTiO2Na2OP2O5Mn2O3SrOZnOCr2O3LOI
Raw clay 39.33 10.44 18.79 5.22 3.11 2.52 0.62 0.23 0.09 0.07 0.05 0.01 0.01 19.5 
Faujasite zeolite 57.28 25.34 0.06 0.05 0.12 0.39 0.01 16.71 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.01 
%OxideSiO2Al2O3CaOFe2O3MgOK2OTiO2Na2OP2O5Mn2O3SrOZnOCr2O3LOI
Raw clay 39.33 10.44 18.79 5.22 3.11 2.52 0.62 0.23 0.09 0.07 0.05 0.01 0.01 19.5 
Faujasite zeolite 57.28 25.34 0.06 0.05 0.12 0.39 0.01 16.71 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.01 

X-ray diffraction

X-ray diffractograms were recorded for raw clay, clay support sintered at 1,000 °C, and faujasite zeolite are given in Figure 1. Figure 1(a) presents the overlayed XRD patterns of the raw clay and the clay support sintered at 1,000 °C, the analysis of the raw clay XRD indicates the presence of quartz (SiO2), calcite (CaCO3), kaolinite (Al2Si2O5(OH)4), smectite (2Al2O3, 8SiO2·2H2O, nH2O), and illite ((K, H3O)Al2Si3AlO10 (OH)2), indicating that the natural clay is a mixture of heterogeneous phases. After sintering of the clay support to a final temperature of 1,000 °C, it is noticed that the peaks associated with the kaolinite, calcite, and smectite phases have completely disappeared in the new spectrum (clay support sintered at 1,000 °C), while new peaks appeared, which were attributed to the newly formed metakaolin (m, Al2O3, 2SiO2) and mullite phase (m, Al2O3, 2SiO2) (El-Kordy et al. 2023).
Figure 1

X-ray diffraction of (a) raw clay and sintered clay at 1,000 °C and (b) faujasite zeolite synthesized. Q, Quartz; C, Calcite; K, Kaolinite; S, Smectite; I, Illite.

Figure 1

X-ray diffraction of (a) raw clay and sintered clay at 1,000 °C and (b) faujasite zeolite synthesized. Q, Quartz; C, Calcite; K, Kaolinite; S, Smectite; I, Illite.

Close modal

The X-ray diffractogram recorded in Figure 1(b) shows that the synthesized faujasite zeolite is well crystallized compared with that of the standard zeolite given in the collection of simulated XRD powder patterns for zeolites which is available in the literature (Treacy & Higgins 2007), with the crystalline parameters shown to be that of the faujasite zeolite cubic system a = b = c = 24.79 Å; α = β = γ = 90° with chemical formula [(Na2)3.5[Al7Si7O48]·32(H2O)].

FTIR analysis

FTIR analysis was used to determine the functional groups present in the raw clay, clay support sintered at 1,000 °C, and synthesized faujasite zeolite the results are shown in Figure 2. In Figure 2(a), the presence of the bands characteristic of clay minerals such as quartz, calcite, kaolinite, smectite, and illite as well as the existence of other bands corresponding to adsorbed water molecules are noticed. The vibrational modes of hydroxyl groups (OH) were identified at 3,607 cm−1 for the external OH which are the surface hydroxyls of the material, and 3,446 cm−1 for the internal OH, which represent the constitutional waters of the structure. The 1,441 cm−1 vibration is due to the presence of carbonates (Monsif et al. 2019). In addition, the bands observed at 460, 523, and 789 cm−1 were attributed to Si–O–Si and Si–O–Al bending. The bands identified at 870 and 1,025 cm−1 were attributed to the Si–O and Al–O bending vibrational modes, respectively. The bands located at 3,607 and 870 cm−1 are characteristic of kaolinite, while the bands at 789 and 460 cm−1 correspond to quartz. Upon sintering the clay support to 1,000 °C, the FTIR spectrum reveals the disappearance of bands associated with calcite, kaolinite, and water. This observation indicates the decomposition of carbonate and the transformation of kaolinite to metakaolin, corroborating our findings in the XRD analysis (Figure 1(a)).
Figure 2

FTIR analysis of (a) raw clay and sintered clay at 1,000 °C and (b) synthesized faujasite zeolite (b).

Figure 2

FTIR analysis of (a) raw clay and sintered clay at 1,000 °C and (b) synthesized faujasite zeolite (b).

Close modal

The FTIR spectrum of the faujasite zeolite is presented in Figure 2(b), we notice the presence of the following characteristic bands: the vibration around 3,477 and 1,640 cm−1, attributed respectively, to the stretching and bending vibrations of the OH and H–OH bonds of the adsorbed water molecules. A strong absorption band located between 1,000 and 1,100 cm−1 represents the stretching vibration of the Si–O bond. Two absorption bands at 458 and 553 cm−1 are characteristic of the stretching vibration of the Al–O bond, while the two absorption bands at 458 and 553 cm−1 are attributed to the vibrations of the Si–O–Al and Si–O–Si bending.

N2 adsorption–desorption isotherms and pores diameter distribution

Figure 3 shows the N2 adsorption–desorption isotherms obtained at 77 K for each sample (raw clay, support sintered at 1,000 °C, and synthesized faujasite zeolite) and their pore size distribution, which was determined using the BJH method. According to Figure 3(a), 3(c), and 3(e), the adsorption–desorption isotherms obtained for these samples are of type IV, with an H3 hysteresis according to the IUPAC classification. This type of isotherms is characteristic of mesoporous materials. The textural parameters derived from the N2 adsorption–desorption isotherms are shown in Table 2. A comparison of the volumes of gas adsorbed by the raw clay (0.0411 cm3/g) and the clay support sintered at 1,000 °C (0.0021 cm3/g) reveals a significant drop in the pore volume of the material, which may be due to the fusion between the grains of the clay. The decrease in specific surface area calculated by the BET method from 34.40 m2/g for the raw clay to 0.48 m2/g for the clay support sintered at 1,000 °C was observed and may probably be due to the decrease in pore size. This large decrease in specific surface area is linked to the sintering phenomenon, which induces the evaporation of the adsorbed water and organic matter decomposition in the pores of heated clay as the temperature increases, leading to a loss of space between grains and consolidation. Faujasite zeolite is characterized by a large specific surface area 639.61 m2/g, in this work, faujasite was deposited as a thin layer on the clay support's surface, after deposition of faujasite zeolite, and the pore volumes increased to 0.3220 cm3/g compared to a pore volume of clay support of 0.0021 cm3/g. The pore diameters were found to follow the same trend as the pore volume, it decreases when the raw clay is sintered to 1,000 °C from 47.7 Å for raw clay to 35.5 Å for the sintered clay support at 1,000 °C. While deposition of faujasite zeolite further reduces the pore size of the membrane to 20.8 Å. This characteristic is required and expected to enhance the retention of the membrane toward bacterial filtration.
Table 2

Textural parameters of raw clay, clay support, and synthesized faujasite zeolite

MaterialsSBET (m²/g)Vp (cm³/g)Dp (Å)
Raw clay 34.40 0.0411 47.7 
Clay support 0.48 0.0021 35.5 
Faujasite zeolite 639.61 0.3220 20.8 
MaterialsSBET (m²/g)Vp (cm³/g)Dp (Å)
Raw clay 34.40 0.0411 47.7 
Clay support 0.48 0.0021 35.5 
Faujasite zeolite 639.61 0.3220 20.8 
Figure 3

Adsorption–desorption isotherms and pores diameter distribution: (a and b) raw clay, (c and d) clay support sintered at 1,000 °C, and (e and f) faujasite zeolite synthesized.

Figure 3

Adsorption–desorption isotherms and pores diameter distribution: (a and b) raw clay, (c and d) clay support sintered at 1,000 °C, and (e and f) faujasite zeolite synthesized.

Close modal

SEM-EDS analysis

The microstructures of the surface of clay supports sintered at 1,000 °C and the faujasite zeolite membrane are shown in Figure 4. SEM of the sintered clay support clearly shows that the surface of the support fabricated is homogeneous with no cracks (Figure 4(a)). In addition, the clay particles are uniformly distributed over the clay support surface, the grains partially join to form a stronger ceramic body, and the membranes have a suitable porous structure resulting in the disappearance of activated carbon organic additive by sintering at 1,000 °C. SEM analysis of the faujasite zeolite membrane. Figure 4(c) shows the existence of crystals with an average size ranging from 0.53 to 1.8 μm and a bipyramidal shape with a square or cubic octahedral base characteristic of faujasite-type zeolite. Figure 4(b) and 4(d) presents the EDS spectra of the clay support sintered at 1,000 °C and faujasite zeolite as a layer deposited on the surface of the support. Table 3 provides the mass percentages of major chemical elements, including oxygen (O), silica (Si), alumina (Al), calcium (Ca), magnesium (Mg), and sodium (Na), as indicated by the major peaks observed in the EDS spectra of the clay support (Figure 4(b)) and faujasite zeolite (Figure 4(d)). The EDS analysis validates the presence of oxides such as SiO2, Al2O3, MgO, CaO, and Na2O. This observation is substantiated by the results obtained from the XRF analysis (Table 1) and further supported by the XRD analysis (Figure 1(a) and 1(b)).
Table 3

Mass % of the elements found in the clay support and the faujasite zeolite membrane using EDS analysis

ElementsClay support (Mass %)Faujasite zeolite (Mass %)
44.07 48.65 
Mg 3.24 – 
Al 7.57 16.56 
Si 18.03 30.29 
Ca 27.10 – 
Na – 4.51 
ElementsClay support (Mass %)Faujasite zeolite (Mass %)
44.07 48.65 
Mg 3.24 – 
Al 7.57 16.56 
Si 18.03 30.29 
Ca 27.10 – 
Na – 4.51 
Figure 4

SEM analysis and corresponding EDS spectra of (a) clay support and (b) faujasite zeolite.

Figure 4

SEM analysis and corresponding EDS spectra of (a) clay support and (b) faujasite zeolite.

Close modal

Filtration results

Water flux permeability for the membranes prepared

Figure 5 shows the evolution of the flux as a function of time for the clay support and the faujasite zeolite membrane. In both membranes, the flux decreases with time increase, with a more pronounced decrease for the faujasite zeolite membrane. This may be due to the clogging of the pores after the deposition of the faujasite zeolite on the clay support (Elgamouz et al. 2019). Sintering is the process wherein grains within the clay support consolidate. The inclusion of activated carbon facilitates the achievement of substantial porosity following calcination. The introduction of activated carbon facilitates the dispersion of pores within the clay support. The flux for the clay support initially decreases from 1,500 L m−2 h−1 before stabilizing at 412 L m−2 h−1 after 90 min of filtration, the shape of the curves is similar to the one described in the literature (El-Kordy et al. 2022a), and can be attributed mainly to the phenomenon of pores' clogging, due to membrane fouling by suspended matter in the liquid. While the water permeation flux for the faujasite zeolite membrane decreases as a function of time from a value of 585 L m−2 h−1 and starts to stabilize after 120 min of operation at a value of 166 L m−2 h−1, it can be concluded from Figure 5 that the water flux of the faujasite zeolite membrane is three times slower than the clay support's flux. This indicates that the deposition of faujasite zeolite was successful and contributed to the tuning of the pore size of the clay support, which may help efficiently in removing bacteria from water bodies contaminated by sickness-inducing pollutants.
Figure 5

Evolution of the flux as a function of time for the clay support and faujasite zeolite membrane using distilled water at P = 1.0 bar and T = 25 °C.

Figure 5

Evolution of the flux as a function of time for the clay support and faujasite zeolite membrane using distilled water at P = 1.0 bar and T = 25 °C.

Close modal

Bacterial solution filtration on clay support and faujasite membrane

After evaluating the performance of the clay support and the zeolite membrane, using distilled water, it is very important to compare the distilled water fluxes with the bacterial fluxes during filtration. Figure 6 shows the variation of the bacterial flux for 180 min of the filtration process at a pressure of 1.0 bar on the clay support and the faujasite zeolite membrane. The fluxes decrease continuously and sharply as the filtration time increases, a stabilization starts around 75 min of filtration for the clay support and 30 min for the faujasite zeolite membrane. A significant discrepancy in fluxes is evident between the two different solutions utilized. This reduction can be attributed, on the one hand, to the clogging of pores within both the clay support and zeolite membrane due to the initial number of CFU/mL bacteria present in the feed solution. On the other hand, the accumulation of rod-shaped Arthrobacter sp. bacteria over time further contributes to the decrease, influenced by their size relative to the pores. The flux through the clay support experiences a decline from 1,208 L m−2 h−1 at 15 min to 314 L m−2 h−1 at 180 min. Similarly, for the faujasite zeolite membrane, the flux reduces from 326 L m−2 h−1 at 15 min to 122 L m−2 h−1 at 165 min. This decrease is attributed to potential pore clogging during the deposition of faujasite-type zeolite on the clay support. The viability of this membrane for future research endeavors is evident.
Figure 6

Variation of the flux as a function of time for the clay support and faujasite zeolite membrane using bacterial solution (pH = 6.5), P = 1.0 bar, and T = 25 °C.

Figure 6

Variation of the flux as a function of time for the clay support and faujasite zeolite membrane using bacterial solution (pH = 6.5), P = 1.0 bar, and T = 25 °C.

Close modal

Bacterial retention on clay support and faujasite zeolite membrane

The selectivity of the synthesized membrane for bacteria filtration was assessed at a pressure of 1.0 bar and room temperature. Figures 5 and 6 illustrate the disparity in fluxes between distilled water and the bacteria solution over time. The flux of the bacteria solution witnessed a 30% reduction, likely attributed to the accumulation of bacteria within the membrane pores.

Supplementary Table S1 illustrates the variation in the number of Arthrobacter sp. bacteria in CFU/mL over a filtration time of 180 min by the clay support sintered at 1,000 °C and the faujasite zeolite membrane synthesized at pH = 6.5 and room temperature. The experiment was conducted three times, and the averages were calculated and presented in Supplementary Table S1. The bacterial solution was directly introduced into the feed tank, and both stock solution and feed solution were reserved for bacterial counting. Subsequently, it is observed that the stock solutions for the two experiments were 630 and 591 CFU/mL, respectively. The bacterial count decreased either partially or completely, with final counts of 5 and 0 CFU/mL after 180 min using the clay support and faujasite zeolite membrane.

The data depicted in Figure 7 exhibit a substantial reduction in bacterial counts of 96 and 99% with the clay support and faujasite zeolite membrane, respectively. This discrepancy stems from the contrast in pore diameter between the two materials. The clay support possesses a larger pore diameter of 3.55 nm, while the faujasite zeolite membrane features a smaller pore diameter of 2.08 nm. Given that bacteria Arthrobacter typically range in size from 1.5 to 2 nm in diameter, the narrower pores of the faujasite zeolite membrane could lead to increased pore blockage, thus enhancing membrane efficiency. Additionally, the narrower pores of the faujasite zeolite membrane may facilitate better bacterial accumulation on its surface compared to the clay support. Comparisons with similar membranes from the literature further reinforce these findings. For example, a cellulose-faujasite composite membrane has demonstrated remarkable efficiency in removing various bacteria, including total coliforms, E. coli, enterococci, and Clostridium bacteria, attributed to the large surface area of the faujasite structure resulting from its narrow pores (Baghdad & Hasnaoui 2020). Similarly, Bertão et al. (2024) showcased a ZDS incorporating the faujasite structure, which exhibited notable retention capabilities against several bacterial strains due to the presence of 5-fluorouracil (5-FU), a small organic molecule capable of penetrating the micropores of faujasite zeolite. Moreover, Jędrzejczyk et al. (2017) investigated an active silver compound immobilized within a solid faujasite matrix, presenting higher or comparable antibacterial activities against various microbes compared to silver nanoparticle-filled paper. The powder form with a high surface area of 900 m2/g provided narrower structures to effectively control the volume of silver and zinc cations. Additionally, Ferreira et al. (2016) explored bimetallic doping of faujasite zeolite with silver and zinc, revealing robust efficacy against bacteria and yeasts due to the synergistic interaction between the two metals within the zeolite framework. This interaction was confirmed by X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy, indicating the irregular distribution of the metal species throughout the zeolite structure.
Figure 7

Retention percentage bacterial as a function of the filtration time using (a) clay support and (b) faujasite zeolite membrane; P = 1.0 bar, pH = 6.5, and T = 25 °C.

Figure 7

Retention percentage bacterial as a function of the filtration time using (a) clay support and (b) faujasite zeolite membrane; P = 1.0 bar, pH = 6.5, and T = 25 °C.

Close modal

The potential applications of the faujasite zeolite membrane for the selective enrichment of Arthrobacter sp. in synthetic wastewater are multifaceted and significant. First, the ability of the faujasite zeolite membrane to effectively retain Arthrobacter sp. bacteria, as demonstrated in our study, suggests its potential utility in wastewater treatment processes aimed at targeting specific bacterial species. This selective enrichment capability could enable the removal or concentration of Arthrobacter sp. from wastewater, facilitating further analysis or downstream applications. Moreover, the narrow pore size of the faujasite zeolite membrane, as compared to traditional membranes like the clay support, offers distinct advantages for selective retention. The smaller pore size minimizes the passage of larger particles while allowing smaller molecules, such as Arthrobacter sp. bacteria, to be efficiently captured. This selectivity can enhance the purity and concentration of Arthrobacter sp. in treated wastewater, thus enabling more accurate analysis or targeted microbial applications. Furthermore, the potential applications of the faujasite zeolite membrane extend beyond wastewater treatment to various fields such as environmental monitoring, bioremediation, and biotechnology. For instance, in environmental monitoring, the membrane could be utilized to selectively enrich Arthrobacter sp. from environmental samples, providing valuable insights into microbial ecology and environmental health. In bioremediation applications, the membrane could aid in the removal of Arthrobacter sp. from contaminated sites, contributing to the restoration of ecosystems and mitigation of environmental pollution. Additionally, in biotechnology, the enriched Arthrobacter sp. could serve as a valuable resource for bioprocessing, bioconversion, or biocatalysis applications.

Despite the promising potential of the faujasite zeolite membrane, it is important to acknowledge certain limitations of our study and identify areas for future research. One limitation is the focus solely on synthetic wastewater, which may not fully represent the complexity of real-world wastewater matrices. Future studies could explore the performance of the faujasite zeolite membrane in more diverse and realistic wastewater samples to assess its robustness and applicability in practical settings. Additionally, while our study demonstrated the selective enrichment of Arthrobacter sp., further investigation is needed to optimize the membrane's performance, including factors such as membrane preparation conditions, operating parameters, and fouling mitigation strategies. Moreover, the long-term stability, scalability, and cost-effectiveness of the faujasite zeolite membrane for large-scale applications warrant further exploration.

The primary objective of this study was to filter Arthrobacter sp., bacteria, using both clay support and faujasite zeolite membrane. Locally collected raw clay was carefully prepared and characterized in our laboratory before utilization. The clay support, sintered at 1,000 °C, served as the substrate for the fabrication of the faujasite zeolite membrane, synthesized through a hydrothermal method at 80 °C for 24 h. Various analytical techniques, as detailed in this manuscript, were employed to characterize the prepared membranes. XRD analysis revealed the presence of quartz and mullite phases in the clay support, confirming the recrystallization of faujasite zeolite on the surface of the clay support. The main steps in the development of the bacterial media included preparation of the nutrient agar, inoculation of the cells into the nutrient broth, incubation, transfer into a sterilized saline solution, incubation in a larger capacity flask, and subsequent observation, which enabled the preparation of Arthrobacter sp. The membranes were then tested by distilled water permeation, and the bacterial filtration retention rates were determined to be 96 and 99% after 180 min of filtration using the clay support and faujasite zeolite membrane, respectively. The faujasite zeolite membrane exhibits potential for selective enrichment of Arthrobacter sp. in synthetic wastewater, offering applications in targeted wastewater treatment and beyond. Its narrow pore size enhances retention efficiency, facilitating accurate analysis and downstream microbial applications. Beyond wastewater treatment, applications span environmental monitoring, bioremediation, and biotechnology, promising valuable insights and solutions. Acknowledging study limitations, future research should explore real-world wastewater matrices, optimize membrane performance, and address scalability and cost-effectiveness for broader applicability.

A.El-K., H.M.K.: Methodology, Validation, Formal analysis, Investigation, Data curation, Writing – Original draft preparation, Writing Review and Editing, Visualization; A.E., M.D., H.M., A.-N.K., and N.T.: Conceptualization, Methodology, Validation, Formal analysis, Investigation, Writing Review and Editing, Visualization, Supervision, Project administration, Funding acquisition.

This research was funded by the Ministry of Higher Education and Le Centre National pour la Recherche Scientifique et Technique (CNRST), Morocco.

The authors would like to thank the Center for Scientific Research and Technological Innovation at the University of Moulay Ismail, Meknes, Morocco, for the SEM, XRD, FTIR, and bacterial analysis.

All relevant data are included in the paper or its Supplementary Information.

The authors declare there is no conflict.

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Supplementary data